How the Grammys snubbed Igor Levit

How the Grammys snubbed Igor Levit


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2021

We knew that nobody was going to watch Igor Levit playing at the Grammys, but who expected this?

From a reader:

The streamed presentation of the classical music Grammy Awards produced this rather remarkable moment.

The person  who actually hosted this segment is a rough-edge comedian, Bill Burr. He was introduced and came out just after Igor Levitt played a languorous version of the first movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata. This was, verbatim, the first words out of his mouth, “

“Was I the only one who wanted to kill themselves during that piano solo?”



  • New Yorker says:

    No, he wasn’t the only one. It’s an appropriate response; and Levit, an attention whore who also plays the piano, should have known what he was getting himself into. A similar wisecrack was made a few years back by some comedian after Marc-André Hamelin played Godowsky, and unlike Levit, Hamelin can actually play.

    • Rogerio says:

      It was the sound of Classical Music going the way of fossil fuels.
      At the same time, in the other room Biilie-“the unsexual”-Eilish was receiving her Grammy to word-wide acclaim

    • SPGeigerin says:

      Right on the money! The amount of Levit’s social media following will never validate the middle of the road skills of this piano owner.

    • joe blow says:

      wow, after listening I was thinking this wasn’t a serious pianist, so I googled, and after reading the wikipedia entry on this guy I thought maybe I was crazy. Nope. I’m pretty sure Beethoven didn’t want the ENTIRE FUCKING movement sustained so that it was a bloody mess with little voicing.

      • Oliver says:

        If you look at the score, you’ll see that Beethoven indeed does explicitly asks for the sustaining pedal to be held down all the way through the first movement. The instruction “sempre senza sordino” means always without dampers. If you listen to András Schiff’s Wigmore lectures about the Beethoven sonatas he talks about this point at some length, and is quite scornful of those who don’t understand it.

        • Marfisa says:

          But surely the effect of holding down the sustaining pedal on a piano of the early 1800s would not have been the same as on a modern piano. I don’t know – is there a specialist on early pianos in the house?

      • Ory Shihor says:

        Actually this is a very valid interpretation and it’s precisely what Beethoven is asking for in the score (no dampers). He is not leaving the pedal down all the way through but is carefully changing it here and there by using half or third pedal or less. I am glad he decided to play it like this – it is indeed different than his commercial recording of the piece which means that he is experimenting. There were certain ‘tricks’ available on Beethoven’s piano at the time that can create quite an effect, similar to what Levitt is trying to do here. Look up Tom Begin on YouTube as he has an entire presentation about this very topic that’s quite fascinating.

        • Marfisa says:

          Tom Beghin, and certainly well worth looking up on YouTube (my earlier post gave a link to his ‘Moonlight’ presentation). Igor Levit is offering the standard over-romantic sentimental version, ignoring the pianissimo marking, ignoring the alla breve time, giving 4 adagio beats to a bar instead of 2, not giving due weight to the bass octaves but pounding out the RH broken chords so that the sustained notes of the melody have to be even more brassy. No poet seeing moonlight twinkling on the waters of a lake would have been reminded of this performance. Bill Burr may be a better critic than we think. Could Levit have been showing his contempt for the whole Grammy circus by playing in this way?

          • Ory Shihor says:

            The moonlight tittle has nothing to do with Beethoven, so the imagery associated with the piece should be personal. You are correct about the tempo – indeed too slow for my taste, but many pianists play it even slower….

          • Marfisa says:

            Agreed about the tempo. About moonlight, I was thinking of Ludwig Rellstab’s reaction – Levit’s performance suggested spilled treacle flowing over the edge of a table rather than moonlight on a lake. But I do not find it helpful to attach pictures to music unless the composer is explicit about them.

    • John Humphreys says:

      A pathetic, ill informed and offensive response. How much do you know of Levit’s playing? Sufficient presumably for you to form a solid opinion based on extensive (if pleasure denied) listening? I guess you have most of Levit’s repertoire confidently in your fingers?

  • Mouse says:

    Apparently you did not get the (simple) joke… (Pssst…it has to do with the key the piece is written in…)

    • Ya what says:

      Ermmmmm….nope don’t get it?

    • Marfisa says:

      C sharp minor? Where’s the joke. But perhaps Burr was referring to Beethoven’s triplets echoing a motif from the Commendataore’s death scene in Don Giovanni, and the melody being a sort of funeral march? That would indeed make it a rather abstruse learned joke. Or maybe, like me, he really hated Levit’s performance.

  • Who takes Grammy’s seriously now a day? Especially when it comes to classical music?

    My four cents on Levit and his Beethoven

  • J Barcelo says:

    The Grammy awards are meaningless and political. They celebrate fellow leftists. Among Grammy winners: Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, Jimmy Carter and they didn’t get a Grammy for any musical talent. It’s all politics.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    The only people who could be even slightly surprised by this are those who have never watched or heard about a televised American awards show. Still, an opportunity for the usual Igor haters to get simultaneously outraged and gleeful.

    • DAVID says:

      I always marvel at the fact that supposedly grown up adults can so shamelessly engage in such mean-spirited bashing. The best response to something one despises is ignorance — not this sort of insatiable indulgence, which ultimately betrays a complete lack of self-respect.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    The next classical pianist invited on the show should promise a chestnut or bonbon and then proceed to play a Nancarrow or Rzewski piece (of the same duration) at the live event. (1) Both wrote pieces that could bring down the house, and (2) it would be interesting to see if the hosts noticed anything. (Same suggestion applies, mutatis mutandis, to other instrumentalists.)

  • Terencd van Vliet says:

    So many critics as usual, so little kindess as usual.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Mr Burr,
    that was a very good idea. Do it.

  • Alexander Graham Cracker says:

    Burr lost me at “themselves.”

    • Ashu says:

      Oh right, he should have said “kill him or herself”, I suppose. Read widely, lad. Language is a lot bigger than Strunk and White.

      • Marfisa says:

        Quite right, Ashu. “Grammarians in 1879, 1922, 1931, 1957, and the 1970s have accepted “they” as a singular term that could be used in place of “he” or “he or she”, though sometimes limiting it to informal constructions. Others in 1795, 1825, 1863, 1898, 1926, and 1982 argued against it for various reasons. And whatever the grammarians might argue, people have been using the singular “they” for about the last 600 years …”

        Besides, ‘themselves’ is gender-neutral; in these days of gender-pronoun sensitivity, ‘him or herself’ might be offensive.

  • Jack says:

    I’m not surprised. The recording industry — and the goons who put on these shows — have never understood classical music. It has always seemed out of place in glitzy events like this. It’s why I’ve never watched or even followed this thing.

  • says:

    Apparently he worked very hard at insulting everybody..

  • Lynne Frost says:

    The Grammys have given short shrift to Classical music for years. Bill Burr is an idiot and with that snide remark, gave NARAS more ammunition to sideline the category and further alienate its unenlightened demographic. It’s pathetic.

  • Thomas Wunsch says:

    Classical music should leave the Grammys altogether. The marginalization of this genre whithin this environment is rather an embarresment than an honor.

  • Karl says:

    Did he prefer the WAP song performance?